Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gerhard Steidl, Master Publisher

Gerhard Steidl, with proofs for Monte Packham’s “Concentric Circles”.

Anybody who has every aspired to having a their photobook published would inevitably think first of Gerhard Steidl. Nobody does it better. And those photographers I know who work with him reel off the stories, their praise and admiration, with Gerhard this, Gerhard that. Well you only have to look at the Steidl books. Objects of substance and quality. Beauty too.

Here is a piece about Gerhard, abridged from the New York Times Magazine of March 30, written by Jim Lewis with photographs by Todd Eberle.

Steidl was born to print, 60 years ago in the small German city of Göttingen, where his father worked nights cleaning the press at the local newspaper. The son skipped college and started his own printing company when he was 18. By 24 he was making multiples for the artist Joseph Beuys and publishing his first book of political nonfiction. Then he turned to fiction and, in the mid-’80s, to the vastly more complicated field of art and photography books, which remains both his specialty and his passion. Over the last 20 years, the imprint that bears his name has combined a boutique sensibility with a long and prestigious list, wide distribution and an immaculate reputation. The books are beautiful, the reproductions exquisite, and they issue forth from a small, crowded four-story building in Göttingen, about 100 yards from the house he was raised in. He’s never lived anywhere else.

Accommodations for visiting artists are modest — except for the photos on the walls.

They call his place Steidlville — a name that refers as much to a frame of mind as it does to a physical plant — and the books that have emerged from it form a peerless library of modern and contemporary art and photography. There are catalogues raisonnés for Ed Ruscha, Robert Gober and Jeff Wall; historical collections of Cartier-Bresson, Muybridge, Robert Capa, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Saul Leiter and August Sander; monumental boxed sets for Lewis Baltz and Bruce Davidson; and monographs on everyone from Felix Gonzalez-Torres to Patrick Demarchelier. He has done 23 books and 18 films on DVD with Robert Frank, 5 books by Mitch Epstein, collections of African photographers like Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé, a Raymond Pettibon here, a Christopher Wool there, a new book with James Welling, another with Robert Polidori. Then there are his dozen or so co-imprints, including the 18 volumes he has produced with Pascal Dangin under the name Steidldangin; his partnership with Karl Lagerfeld, which yields Lagerfeld’s books as well as catalogs.

Works in progress

Artists literally line up to work with him; next door to Steidl’s offices stands an ancient, crooked building that Steidl bought and divided into a half dozen or so apartments, where his artists camp while they await their time on the press. When I arrived, Dangin was completing a portfolio of his work for private distribution. The next day, Epstein appeared. Along with the library on the top floor of Steidl’s offices (where artists congregate during their downtime) and the chef that Steidl employs to cook lunch, this makes for a very convivial atmosphere. But in truth the apartments, like everything else, are a deliberate part of an elaborate work flow. At any given time, the company is working on as many as 80 books, and the artists, if they are alive and mobile, are invited — in fact expected — to oversee the process in person. The combination of elaborate participation and a frangible schedule leads to an extreme form of hurry-up-and-wait: it’s not unusual for artists to be called in the middle of the night and asked to come oversee a print run. “If everyone is going out for lunch or dinner or to have a coffee, you have a mess,” Steidl told me. “Before, I had to send someone out to see in which pub or restaurant we can find Lewis Baltz or Ed Ruscha. Now that I have the apartments, nobody is allowed to go out. They have to wait endlessly, but the moment I have time, they need to be there, and if they are not there, there is a problem.”

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